SACS visit continues long tradition of peer review

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- In 1946, Lt. Gen. Muir Fairchild, the first Air University commander, undertook the mission to establish the world's finest professional military education institution for the study and advancement of Airpower. General Fairchild and his faculty knew their stuff; he was an air combat veteran of two world wars and had helped develop and implement the airpower doctrine that drove the United States to victory in the skies over Europe during World War II a year earlier.

But General Fairchild also realized he needed help from higher education professionals - the outstanding civilian colleges and universities throughout our country. So he assembled distinguished educators to provide critical advice and support on how to go about the business of education. With this "peer review" process in place, General Fairchild was confident in telling his bosses, General Spaatz and General Eisenhower, that AU was not only teaching the right things, but that we were teaching things right.

For the past 63 years, we have been continuing that peer review process. Today, peer review takes the form of regional accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The membership of SACS includes about 800 colleges and universities throughout the 11 southern states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) and Latin America, that grant associate, baccalaureate, master's and doctoral degrees. When an institution earns accreditation by the SACS Commission on Colleges, it signifies that it has "a purpose appropriate to higher education and has resources, programs, and services sufficient to accomplish and sustain that purpose."

Air University received initial accreditation from SACS in 2004, and now, in our fifth year, we are undergoing reaffirmation of that accreditation. This involved an internal examination of the entire institution culminating last September with certification by Lt. Gen. Allen Peck, today's AU commander, that AU is "in compliance" with over 85 principles of accreditation articulated by SACS. Many of these principles involve academics, but SACS is also interested in student support and services which are provided mainly by the men and women of the 42nd Air base Wing. A SACS off-site committee reviewed our compliance certification documents and provided a report to AU and to SACS. 

Beginning Sunday, we will host a one-week visit by a team of distinguished educators organized by SACS to give one last "eyes on" before final approval by the SACS Commission on Colleges in June. These on-site visitors will be paying special attention to the Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP, we have developed to enhance learning for all of our students in Cross-Cultural Competence.

This process may seem cumbersome and redundant in light of the recent Operational Readiness Inspection and the many other assessments we go through at Air University. However, since the AU leadership decided to become an accredited institution, we must abide by the rules. Regional accreditation enables Air University to grant universally recognized academic degrees to our students who complete approved programs of instruction at the Community College of the Air Force, Air Command and Staff College, Air War College, School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, and Air Force Institute of Technology and thus give credit where credit is due. It also allows our faculty and staff to claim credit for service at AU as a "regionally accredited university" to better advance their future careers in higher education.

When the SACS team is here , please welcome them warmly and don't hesitate to talk to them about your experiences at Air University as openly and honestly as possible. Remember, we are standing on the shoulders of giants who used the peer review process to build Air University in the past - and we are still using it to create the future.